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GDC Day 1

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GDC (Game Developer Conference)

So Microsoft has once again sent me across the country, this time to San Fransisco for GDC 2010. All by myself I ventured forth to the conference, luckily getting there early because it took me a while to figure out exactly what to do. Im not even sure if I'm still getting to everything but I got to plenty, and enough to motivate me to get programming again on some of my games.

I started my morning off at the Indie Games summit with 2 presentations. "Fixing a System that Never Worked," and "Abusing You Players, Just For Fun." The first describes the problems relationship between a developer, the publisher, and the process to getting the game distributed. In a normal pattern a developer would get a loan from a publisher, which is fairly high risk for a publisher, so they take a lot of the profits to make up for any potential loss. This means low returns for the publisher who gets just enough to look for the next loan for the next project. This process doesn't work very well especially with a indie developer. Independent Games is looking to start their own support by giving loans to a developer, and the developer getting all of the profits ( Independent games would be getting a very small royalties).

The second presentation, one I was quite eager to attend was not at all what I expected. Whats more fun then abusing your players for fun? There are a few obvious reasons why you might do it: games are too easy, fun for the developer, more freedom in the game, and open the game to newer players. He also covered you can use confusing sounds and different visual tactics (i.e. strobe, rotation, and blinking) to make it difficult for you players. However that was all the information relevant to gaming, since he began to speak about movies that are confusing to their viewers, but forgot to relate them back video-games. Also while funny for the first slide or two, the fact that every slide of his was flashing or strobe lights and the text was not level got old very quick.

From there I moved over to the A.I. Summit were a presentation about behavior Trees was being presented. Using trees a programmer can work through a series of possible actions based on the previous, the issue though is they are static also they don't readily allow for obscure events without wasting resources checking them all the time. In order to expand this system, you can use Event driven branches, these are actions that are defaulted off so the logic will skip them in a given tree until the event is triggered on. then on the on_exit() method of the given behavior, it is turned off again. By placing these branches into a generic list of your tree will allow you tre to grow as needed. The presentation also covered script integration using something like LUA action to call your c++ algorithm. They said that this leads to a more rapid development (using scripts) do to its lack of need to recompile, and will allow get to prototype testing much faster. But the larger your script, the slower it will become so you need to heavily maintain and manage your scripts. Some tricks would to be not allowing garbage collection mid frame, not allowing any trigonometry in script (limiting script to integer math if you really must).

The next presentation I went to was about Reward Systems. Metagames in different activities and games that will further motivate your player to continue playing your game. A perfect real world example of this would be Scouting (with merit badges, and other various awards that are not required) or Karate (belts or ranking system). Meta-games are show up in many different ways including: collections, behavior charts, frequent flier miles, contests, and tournaments. Pretty much anything that allows your player to quantify their skill in a particular area in their game. The best way of motivating a player is POINTS. Everyone loves points (in fact from my personal experience as a camp counselor kids love getting points even if they don't add up to anything) but it is important to know what types of points you are giving to your player. There are three categories: Experience, Skill, and Influential. Experience points are simply a marker on how much of the game the player has gone through or seen, this is most often seen in the form of levels (i.e. Farmville you get XP for every action you do). Skill points are often in the form of score or rank. these points are earned through interaction and mastery of a game (i.e. time trial scores, score for a level). Lastly is influential points, these points are often given by the community( rating, or rep). These points quantify the value the player is within the community. the best example of this is Stack Overflow. The only way you can increase your score is through asking and answering questions (with quality). It is important for your games to not only implement the points that are appropriate, but you display them in a manner that is appropriate as well.

My next presentation I attended was entitled "What Social Games can learn from Virtual Worlds." By this point I have come to not trust titles of these presentations. The presentation was focused on retention of players (focused on online games like Farmville). The presenter started with an equation Success = ( LTV - COA ) x Scale where LTV is Player lifetime value, and COA is Cost of acquisition. A simple formula to gauge success on, the presentation goes on to show that retention is the key because it will increase LTV and decrease COA. So the question becomes how to retain. The game needs to make the player invest in the virtual world. You can do this with deep content, concurrency, community, "fresh" content, and service.

Continuing with my theme of getting a wide scope of the event i decided to go to a Serious Games Topic. Never experiencing anything to do with Serious games I had no idea what to expect. It was quite a sobering moment, when the presenter began talking about cases where children were pulled off the street, raped, and killed. The topic of the presentation was "Violence Prevention - Playing a Video-game Can make a Difference." Using video-games to teach children to avoid predators. We can use games to teach kids how to call authorities when recognizing suspicious behavior. Also allowing reports of the childrens' actions for the parents to review and use to help teach their kids in subjects that they are not good with. It made me realize in the hype of all of the latest and greatest games, the importance on the games that are targeted towards kids, and the educational importance that they can hold.

As a side note, I will have access to slides and pictures from the vaults a few weeks afterwords, so I can place more multimedia into these posts. Also I have notes that go into more details in each presentation, if anyone wants more discussion or details about any topic, just contact me in some way

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